MaaS is a user friendly way to optimize modal options
MaaS is a novel way of utilizing the already existing physical transport network by bringing new digital interfaces to make better use of the existing vehicles and resources already on streets, underground, and on water as a way of optimizing the whole transport network with all its modes.
To do this MaaS crowdsources the needs of individual persons to travel from point A to point B. For example; a person sends an inquiry to the MaaS operator, and all the modes of transport that interface digitally send their offers for the ride; bus, tram, metro, car sharing, city bike, Uber or a shared ride – or anything in between. The system then mathematizes the available transport options for the ride, takes into consideration the personal preferences of the customer and offers the most suitable solution. Preferences can include anything, ranging from the user’s budget and values (e.g., environmental friendliness, fastness, only direct routes, nice views, etc.) to constraints (age, cases to carry, permanent or temporary incapacities etc.). Preferences can also be subject to time, specific trip or even weather. MaaS operators could interface with a user’s calendar and suggest a mobility solution that is sufficient for the time available. The system could see if a person is late for a meeting or has to make a confidential call on the way to the meeting. The intelligent MaaS operator system could also get accurate weather information from sensors on the windscreens of connected cars and perceive that it is raining and suggest those modes of transport that offer most shelter.
Figure 1 depicts the operational model of this approach. MaaS operators do not own any assets, neither cars nor drivers, but simply operate on the digital layer; offering a marketplace for physical mobility services operated by the transport service providers. The mobility marketplace could be operated by a few competing ‘MaaS operators’ with similar – yet differentiated – mobility service offerings. Users would then get to decide which one to use. MaaS operators could introduce monthly subscription models, similar to Netflix and Spotify. MaaS introduces a huge leap, from either owning a car with all the hassle of it or adapting to the specific routes and timetables of public transit, to customers choosing their desired level of service (LOS) from the mobility solutions pool. LOSs could be priced differently. MaaS outsources all the planning and scheduling of one’s personal mobility.
Reorganized value chain in transportation, according to the Mobility as a Service model.
MaaS as ‘mobility on demand’ understands the real-time mobility needs of customers, and respectively, the availability of options in real-time. It collects the offerings of all modes of transport to the same ‘fleet of mobility options’, as it collects the needs of customers into the same ‘pool of mobility inquiries’. With a highly intelligent system, the mobility operator organizes those options and inquiries to meet each other – in a matter of seconds. The result is the best possible offer for the customer and the most efficient use of the transport system – that is, the lowest operational cost possible. MaaS is a concept that can be applied under all local conditions; it always builds of top of the existing transport network. It also creates a fruitful ecosystem for bringing new services into itself, since small mobility service providers can reach a wide customer base through MaaS operators at once.
By organizing transportation in this way MaaS enables us to greatly elevate the user experience, and it can be achieved with the resources that we already have. Private persons, companies, cities and states have already invested in so many vehicles–and possibly over-invested in private cars. The utilization rates of these, depending on location, could generally be higher. This particularly applies to private cars that are an unexploited resource; in active use generally for no more than an hour a day and simply depreciating in value. It would be beneficial for all to have these resources in better use. Cars can be utilized in many ways as shared cars or on demand ride services, but the key is to seamlessly integrate these services to the rest of the transport network; especially public transit. Private cars or shared rides will almost always be needed to extend the reach of the public transit network, to perform the “last mile” solutions at the ends of the transit system. Transit systems will likely not be built in places with few people. The future is not about owning things but about developing and utilizing services that are suited to each case in question. By utilizing and crowdsourcing the whole transport network, MaaS will provide the same level of service, if not better, than private cars.
The concept of Mobility as a Service came to the knowledge of a wider audience in 2014, when my Master’s Thesis at Aalto University in Finland was published.[i] The Thesis was preceded by working on a modern transport policy guided by the government. That work involved a number of companies and public organizations. The new transport policy wanted to respond to challenges in transportation, the possibilities offered by new technologies, and the ambitions of future users; the younger generations that drive digital and sharing economies. Challenges include the negative environmental effects of transport and lack of space in cities for cars and parking. We see much potential in new technologies and digitalization that could be applied in transportation, including physical infrastructure and vehicles. As Finns happen to be rather tech savvy and early adopters regarding new technologies, it is natural for us to see benefit from it in all fields of business. We feel that technology can bring places closer to each other and make physical resources serve as many people as possible. Finland is a country with only 5 million people with great distances in between cities and towns.
Societal and economical changes, digitalization, and new technologies, even autonomous cars, will radically change how we move in the future. But I believe that the need for moving will remain. Despite remote work possibilities, virtual reality and any other new technologies, people will want to move out of the house, see others, feel the air and real physical environments, enjoy random incidents. On the other hand, I think that people will evolve as customers to begin to demand more. I think this is a general trend, strengthened by the global exchange of information, that will not bypass transportation. Transportation might, in the end, require physical items operated locally; nevertheless, many aspects of the services can and will be revised globally. User experiences, price models, and business models are shared worldwide. I would argue that transportation will face more demanding customers in the coming years, represented especially by the younger generations. These demanding customers are not satisfied with a nicer car, but they expect a greater level of service by the transport system. This trend of praising the good user experience can already be seen in the great popularity of Uber.
Mobility as a Service was born as a vision that needs to come down to concreteness. As described earlier, MaaS is an ecosystem that brings together all travel modes and mobility options. This is the reason why it requires a lot of work to be done by several parties. Mobility as a Service has become the backbone of the Finnish transport policy, as it is the backbone of many companies’ strategies to enter the era of new mobility. We also see new companies, either startups or from different business sectors, entering the mobility field.
One of them is OP Financial Group, my current employer, the largest financial sector player in Finland with businesses including banking, wealth management and insurances. Surprisingly, OP sees mobility as a highly interesting area of new business development. The same goes with TeliaSonera Finland, a large telecommunications provider in the Nordic and Baltic countries. In addition to these bigger players, there are startups, such as Tuup, MaaS Global and PayiQ, that develop MaaS businesses around Finland, just to mention a few. It is an asset to have so many companies with differing know-how and business goals to work together in this field; moreover, supported by the public sector. Optimally, Mobility as a Service would operate on open interfaces to the timetables, real-time location information and payment systems of different transport modes, so that MaaS operators could truly seamlessly integrate the whole service offering to their customers in an optimal way. I think Finland serves well as a test bed for MaaS, since Finland is a country of open data and open interfaces, especially on the public side.
Sonja Heikkilä works at OP Financial Group, where she is in charge of OP’s strategy in mobility. As mobility is an expanding area for OP, Sonja works on new business development heading several initiatives on new mobility. Heikkilä has strong know-how in future mobility solutions and digital mobility services. Sonja is one of the pioneers of Mobility as a Service, and she has received widespread recognition for visioning and studying the future of mobility.
 (Mobility as a Service – A Proposal for Action for the Public Administration, Case Helsinki, https://aaltodoc.aalto.fi/handle/123456789/13133)